Author: Benjamin Jance IV, CEU-IBEI student, 2016-2018

“Szabad ország, szabad egyetem (free country, free university),” I chanted alongside crowds in excess of 80,000 on the streets of Budapest earlier this April and May.

“Els carrers seran sempre nostres (the streets will always be ours),” I heard next to Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf, where hundreds of thousands of pro-secessionist demonstrators gathered earlier this October.

To policymakers, demonstrations like the impassioned versions we have witnessed in both Budapest and Barcelona this year are a hallmark of the democratic process: a threat to some, a reinforcement to others, and objective phenomena of study for others still. To students of public policy, these social movements also contain an urgent call for better practice and scholarship. If anything, recent events in Hungary, Spain, across Europe, and around the world only cement the need for our shared pursuit of knowledge in public policy.

When I embarked on my Mundus MAPP journey as a student on the CEU-IBEI track, I sought a program wherein my physical surroundings could help frame my studies in the classroom. So when the Hungarian government passed a law in April – commonly referred to as ‘Lex CEU’ – that made it virtually impossible for CEU to continue its operations as a top-tier postgraduate institution in Europe, I got what I asked for. Throw in the events following the Catalan independence referendum on October 1st that was deemed illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court, and some would argue that I got more than what I asked for.

But make no mistake: precise timing is the only coincidence between the pursuit of my academic endeavors and the aforementioned sociopolitical events in Budapest and Barcelona. Neither political conservatism in Hungary nor separatism in Catalonia are taking place in a vacuum; they are manifestations of broader sociopolitical movements across an ever-evolving Europe. Tackling these issues requires both an acute understanding of events on the ground and a critical ability to draw on examples from around the world.

As these movements develop, we persevere in the classroom. We examine other social movements around the world and question the future of democracy. We delve into counter-terrorism efforts, drug use policies, and gender-sensitive development strategies in regions that merely start with the Middle East, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. We flip textbook pages in an attempt to better understand the fundamental theories that have helped shape the modern world, scratching the surface with realism and poststructuralism. Through presentations, papers, and class discussions in diverse contexts, each passing day results in a deeper understanding of the world around us. Armed with an arsenal of case studies, theories, and best practices, we can prime ourselves to tackle the issues that matter.

To continue our pursuit of a public policy degree that is steeped in both practice and theory is to ready ourselves for the acceptance of the baton that current policymakers will pass onto us. Whatever baggage that baton brings, we have an obligation to equip ourselves with the theories, real-world examples, and impromptu decision-making skills that are necessary for 21st-century leadership.

After all, this degree is for the risk-takers: citizens who appreciate the value of education because they stand together in its pursuit and defense. Today, social movements like those in Budapest and Barcelona remind us that better practice and scholarship are needed to progress towards a more just and open society.

Tomorrow, that reminder may come from somewhere else. As future policymakers, the least we ought to do is prepare. And to prepare, we persevere in our study of public policy.